Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Collector or Dealer?

An interesting entry recently posted on the Art Law Blog

notes that, “A motion to dismiss was denied last week in the case of the memorabilia collector who claims he was duped into selling a bunch of previously unknown Diane Arbus photographs for $3,500.” So it looks like Bob Langmuir and Bayo Ogunsanya will be going to court afterall.

The blog entry states, “Langmuir admitted to a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter that he knew the photographs were rare Diane Arbus prints before the second transaction with Ogunsanya. Langmuir told the reporter that at the time of the second transaction, he tried to ‘stay calm,’ but he was ‘burning up.’”

Sounds like bad news for Bob, except for one thing.

This blog entry, and nearly every other article on the affair, characterizes Bayo Ogunsanya as an innocent “collector.” In fact, as Bayo admitted to me himself, he was a dealer who for years had been buying items at storage unit auctions and selling them at flea markets, ephemera shows and on eBay. I met him as a dealer at an African American ephemera show, and when I went to his house he had a room full of material that he told me he was putting on eBay.

As anyone in the business knows, this makes all the difference. A dealer has a certain moral obligation not to take advantage of the uninformed civilians from whom he purchases his goods. But when a dealer buys from another dealer, it’s each man for himself. Every dealer has equal access to the secrets of his trade. Energy and intellectual curiosity separate those who bother to do their work from those who do not.

Bayo Ogunsanya had every chance in the world to do the research that Bob did. He’d owned the Hubert’s Archive for more than a year, and he lived within a subway ride of the some of the greatest galleries, museums and libraries in America. If he wanted to research the Hubert’s Archive, he could have. Bob Langmuir, after his first buy from Bayo, got curious and did the work. And even after his second buy, when he supposedly “knew” he was purchasing Arbus photographs, he faced still another year of painstaking research before the first few photos were authenticated by the Arbus estate.

The fact is, Bayo Ogunsanya should have done his homework. He did not, and he paid a price for his lack of curiosity. It will be interesting to see if the court, unlike the media, can grasp the elemental distinction between “collector” and “dealer.”

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Unique Platform

This from Artfino, an internet site that tracks happenings in the art world…

“Mercury Group, Russia’s largest luxury retail company, will assume control of boutique auction house Phillips de Pury & Company, according to an agreement announced today. Under the terms of the deal, Simon de Pury will remain chairman and an important stakeholder in the company.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, “Mercury owns the TSUM department store in downtown Moscow, and the Barvikha Luxury Village in a Moscow suburb. Its shops sell brands such as Gucci, Prada, Giorgio Armani and Rolex. It also has showrooms for Ferrari, Maserati and Bentley cars. In October 2007, the Luxury Village hosted the first contemporary-art exhibition in Russia by Gagosian Gallery, the art world’s global leader in exhibition space.”

In a press release announcing the acquisition, de Pury said, “we have seen tremendous growth in the company over the last four years and this partnership with a major player in the luxury sector will allow us to provide a unique platform to new and fast growing markets.”

The implications are huge for the Hubert’s Archive, currently stranded at Phillips after they cancelled their auction last spring. Once Bob Langmuir, owner of the archive, irons out his difficulties with Bayo Ogunsanya (Ogunsanya, first purchaser of the archive, is suing Langmuir in hopes of securing a chunk of the so-far non-existent profits), Bob has got to come to some new arrangement with Phillips regarding the fate of the archive and their contractual obligations to him. Will he be negotiating with Simone de Pury or some Russian bean counter who’s never heard of Diane Arbus?

It’s possible the Mercury Group’s acquisition might work in Bob’s favor. A fresh cash infusion and new ownership could be a strong incentive for Phillips to clear up old business. The archive could be put up for auction once again, or simply wind up back in Bob’s lap. And there is another possibility - one which pleases me as much as the thought of the Hubert’s Archive being placed in the Metropolitan Museum.

Perhaps Phillips was telling the truth all along, and there really was a White Knight buyer for the Hubert’s Archive. Perhaps Mercury Group was the buyer, and Charlie and Diane will wind up at the Gagosian Gallery in Luxury Village just outside of Moscow, cheek by jowl with Gucci, Prada, Giorgio Armani and Rolex. Charlie and Woogie would probably dig it, though Diane would be appalled.

Talk about a “unique platform…”